Danny Williamson ’84 MAEd ’86 says he’ll never forget the day in 1995 that Jack Wakeley reported to work as a volunteer coach for the track and field team. Wakeley, who had just stepped down as Western Carolina University’s interim chancellor, simply showed up unannounced to volunteer his services, saying, “At one time, I ran track.”
“I said, ‘That’s good. What event did you run?’ He said, ‘I ran the 400.’ I said, ‘Tell me how fast you ran the 400.’ And he said, ‘I ran it in 50 seconds.’ And I thought, ‘Now we have two slow guys coaching track,’” Williamson said.
Williamson came to discover – as did hundreds of student-athletes over the ensuing years – that what Wakeley lacked in speed, he more than made up for in heart. That’s what made Wakeley’s death so difficult for members of WCU’s track, field and cross country programs – in fact, for anyone who knew him. Wakeley died Feb. 18 in his sleep at the age of 78.
Wakeley, who came to WCU as vice chancellor for academic affairs in 1987, was interim chancellor after the retirement of Myron “Barney” Coulter in 1994 until the 1995 appointment of John W. Bardo. Wakeley returned to the psychology faculty, retiring in 1999.
Friends, students and colleagues were among the speakers at a Feb. 24 campus memorial service, an event billed as a “celebration of a multifaceted life.” “I know that this is supposed to be a sad moment for us because we all did love Jack. But when I think about Jack and think about my relationship with him and his contributions to the campus, all I can really do is smile,” said Anthony Hickey, who was dean of WCU’s Graduate School when Wakeley came to the university as vice chancellor.
During his tenure as chief academic officer, Wakeley was responsible for numerous academic changes, including the addition of WCU’s first doctoral degree and a master’s degree program in physical therapy. He led the university in developing a strong program in educational assessment and an increasing emphasis on teaching and learning, and he fostered programs to promote and encourage faculty professional development, including support for faculty scholarly assignments. A dedicated patron of the arts, Wakeley helped launch an outdoor sculpture program that continues to flourish on campus, and he was among the dignitaries who cut the ribbon at the grand opening of WCU’s Fine and Performing Arts Center in 2005.
A U.S. Army veteran during the Korean War, Wakeley and his wife, Sue, created an endowed scholarship fund to provide financial assistance to one male and one female student-athlete in track, field or cross country every year.
To make a contribution to the Sue and Jack Wakeley Scholar Athlete Award Fund, visit the website give.wcu.edu; send a check to Western Carolina University, Office of Development, 201 H.F. Robinson, Cullowhee, N.C. 28723; or call 828.227.7124 (toll-free at 800.492.8496) to make a gift using American Express, Discover, MasterCard or VISA.